Historic Moment: Trolleys
By Jorge Batlle
Skaneateles Village Historian
Today, the buzz words are electric cars and light rail systems. These ideas started back in the 1880s when Frank Sprague worked with Thomas Edison to develop motors and mechanisms to power a tram. These drove the former horse pulled cars five times faster than horse teams. Sprague became known as “The Father of Electric Traction.”
In the 1890s trolley car systems swept the country. They were an economic boon, affording people an easy way to get to the job. It boosted social life, made shopping simpler, and made getting to parks and recreational areas easier.
Locally, the first franchise was sold to the Auburn City Railroad Company in 1898. This line ran from Auburn along Franklin Street.Construction of the right-of-way hit a few snags due to the lack of finances and rising cost of materials. By September of 1900 the line was finished. The company purchased land where today’s Cayuga County Community College is located for car shed. In November they had a few trial runs. The trolley ran from Auburn to Root’s Corners – what is now West Genesee Street and Fuller Street. The trip took 20 minutes.
Jan. 1, 1901 the line officially opened, with the trolley running from Auburn to the bridge over the outlet of Skaneateles Lake. It cost 15 cents one-way and 25 cents round trip. A second trolley car was put into service the following week. January 4, 1901 a free ride to Auburn was offered to anyone wanting to purchase clothes at Marshall’s Clothing Store. Jan. 16 the Auburn Interurban Railway Company got permission to extend the line to the eastern limits of the village. In April of 1901 the bridge over the out let was strengthened by adding additional girders. This extension was completed Nov. 20, with the trolley stopping in front of Legg Hall.
It was thought that the trolley lines were competitors with the railroads. Statistics show that the average number of passengers on the railroad between Skaneateles and Auburn was 15 per day. The daily average riders on the new trolleys was about 300 per day.
December of 1901, plans to extend the service to Marcellus were held up a law suit by the New York Central Railroad Company and a local, Frederick Roosevelt. February 1902, the suit was dismissed. Work started on the line to Marcellus on March 18, 1902. 60 men constructed two small bridges with spans of 50 and 60 feet and a long iron trestle bridge 622 feet in length to span Nine Mile Creek and the Martisco Railroad. By December the line was finished and the first car to Marcellus began operation. Today’s Lee-Mulroy Road was the route it took from Route 20 toward Marcellus. The trolley company filed a notice for extension of the line into Syracuse.
October of 1902, contracts were let for two power substations. One between Skaneateles and Marcellus, and the other between Marcellus and Syracuse. These stations converted alternating current to direct current used by the trolley car’s motors. Also in 1902, the line was completed to Syracuse through Howlett Hill and the Split Rock gorge onto Syracuse. This route was billed as “The Scenic Route.” The Auburn and Syracuse Electric Railroad operated the steamboat Glen Haven and advertised ‘searchlight’ cruises on Skaneateles Lake aboard the steamer The City of Syracuse, which included dinner and dancing.
With trolleys running to Marcellus, and on to Syracuse, cars made fewer stops in the village. It was originally at all streets off of Genesee Street, Legg Block, Episcopal Church , about where Chestnut Circle is today, and East Lake Street. The ticket office, waiting room and freight depot was in the Eckett Block at Genesee & Jordan. Cars now stopped only there and at Root’s Corners (Genesee & Fuller) and East Lake Street. At each stop a wooden hexagonal stop or station was built. These stops were named after the family owning the property, such as Dando, Williams, and Seymour. The station at East Lake Street was close to the front of 181 East Genesee. The family there had many people knocking at their door asking for information.
In 1907 work was completed on a second track to Marcellus. The track remained single over the 622 foot long bridge over Nine Mile Creek. Cars often had to wait for another car to clear the bridge.
Snow did not seem to bother operations of the cars. When the snow was really bad, the railroad company hired anyone available to shovel. In March of 1920 it was reported that the drifts were ten feet high and the railroad company brought it their big plow to clear the tracks.
The trolley line had its share of serious mishaps. In the village, a child lost his life when sliding down a hill, his sled went in front of an on-coming trolley. The Motorman and Conductor were killed in a head-on collision in January of 1918 on the single track on Franklin Street at the Soule Cemetery. Also in 1918 a trolley collided with a railroad car in Split Rock. 54 passengers were injured including thirteen Skaneateles residents. Mr. Lewis of Skaneateles died when the stove in the smoker area tipped over on to him. There were numerous derailments, some involving utility poles.
As time went on, the popularity of cars and busses became the method of transportation. This resulted in trolley lines losing business. A notice in the April 13, 1930 Auburn newspaper stated the “last trolley car between Syracuse and Auburn will be run into the barns in Auburn, at 1230 o’clock Tuesday afternoon (April 15) after a trip from Syracuse. When Gordon Winters, motorman, and Hiram Titus, conductor, the latter the oldest employee in point of service, leave it, their departure will signify the end of operations for all time.”
Feb 18, 2019
Feb 18, 2019
Feb 18, 2019
Feb 18, 2019
Feb 18, 2019